Clark County added 1,700 jobs from August to September, the region’s labor economist reported Tuesday, which suggests a strong showing for a local economy that has struggled to find its footing in the aftermath of the economic crash.
But those additional jobs, while a nice September boost, largely reflected seasonal factors, including fall hiring by school districts, and temporary payroll additions in the food processing and leisure and hospitality sectors.
Strip away the seasonal influences — as Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the Washington State Employment Security Department, did in his analysis released Tuesday — and Clark County’s nonfarm employment rose a mere 100 jobs last month.
The underlying trend becomes even clearer when you look at the county’s labor market performance in the 12 months ending in September. Over the year, the county has added only 1,000 jobs — an annualized growth rate of 0.8 percent.
That’s not contraction. But it’s also nothing to cheer.
By contrast, if Clark County’s economy were healthy, it would see annualized growth of 2.5 to 3 percent.
The county’s sluggishness mirrors the slow recovery of the nation’s economy, Bailey said Tuesday. Consumer spending — which drives roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic growth — remains weak, Bailey said, dampened by unemployment and a large overhang of household debt.
Not enough new jobs
The economic crash drilled a deep hole in Clark County’s economy, eliminating 9,900 jobs from February 2008 to February 2010, according to Bailey. Since February 2010, the county has recovered 3,700 jobs, leaving payrolls down by 6,200 jobs four years after the Great Recession.
And while initial claims for jobless insurance benefits are down, long-term unemployment lingers. “So we have a labor market that is not generating a lot of job losses,” Bailey wrote in his report, “but is not creating enough net new jobs to rapidly re-employ workers and bring down unemployment.”
Indeed, Clark County’s jobless rate is still high. September’s preliminary jobless rate — 8.3 percent — will likely be revised upward to close to 10 percent, according to Bailey. That’s to account for jobless Clark County residents who previously worked in Oregon.
A similar revision drove up August’s unemployment rate from 9.6 percent to 11.3 percent. In August 2011, the county’s jobless rate was 13.1 percent. In September 2011, it was 11.8 percent.
On the bright side, first-time jobless claims filed by Clark County residents with the state’s unemployment insurance system were unchanged in September after a sharp drop in August, “a positive sign indicating that the number of new job losses continues to decline,” Bailey said.
Nevertheless, long-term unemployment persists. In September, 2,287 Clark County residents were still on emergency unemployment benefits, which will be phased out by the end of the year, Bailey reported.
Since July 2008, 5,837 county residents have used up all of their jobless benefits, including nearly 1,900 so far this year.